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Columbia University 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Columbia University 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 lists of 100 words; 4 essays of 150 words each 

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Why, Short Answer

List questions

For the list question that follows, there is a 100 word maximum. Please refer to the below guidance when answering this question:
  • Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.
  • Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.
  • It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.
  • No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.
List a selection of texts, resources and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums and other content that you enjoy.  (100 words or fewer)

How do you pursue intellectual development outside of the classroom? You’ll need to be careful to avoid self-aggrandizing or pandering choices. Don’t top your list with 1984 unless you genuinely picked it up of your own accord, read it from start to finish, and meditated on Orwell’s intentions (while staring out the window, jaw agape). Think of not just the most recent media you’ve consumed, but also the old classics you can’t help revisiting (anything by Jenny Han, the podcast you binged in two weeks, the film you saw in theaters three times). Play with the sequencing here: how would you set these up in your library? Chronologically? Alphabetically? Thematically? Maybe you can make an entertaining leap from the sublime to the ridiculous by placing a heart-wrenching play alongside a goofy satire. Have fun with it! After all, this list is, at its core, about what you consume for the pleasure of it.

Short answer questions

For the four short answer questions, please respond in 150 words or fewer.
A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (150 words or fewer)

Ah, the infamous “community” essay. Many schools ask students about their communities because they want to know how you relate to the people around you, forge connections, and commune with your peers. In this particular instance, the question emphasizes equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration. What do these words mean to you and how do they relate to your perspective or lived experience? Maybe you’re very involved in a progressive church youth group that celebrates its members differences, including trans and nonbinary members. Perhaps the friends you made at the skatepark have introduced you to a new culture and mindset of “try and try again” that you love. Maybe there are different languages spoken by the volunteers in your community garden, and now you know how to say “basil” in four different dialects (BTW in Italian it’s “basilico,” #funfact). How do you see equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration play out in your community? And, looking forward, how would you keep those values alive at Columbia next fall?

In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant’s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result. (150 words or fewer)

This prompt is incredibly similar to the Common App’s Prompt #2, which asks applicants to recount a time when they faced a challenge, setback, or failure. Our advice is similar: isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it. Writing about a difficult time in your life requires both vulnerability and perspective. Instead of focusing on the barrier or obstacle you were up against, spend most of the words at your disposal on how you rose to the occasion to overcome the challenge at hand. This is your opportunity to show admissions that you are a developing, maturing young adult with resilience and work ethic. As you zero in on a key moment, ask yourself the following questions: What healthy coping mechanisms or communication skills did you develop? Who, if applicable, did you choose to lean on and why? What did you learn about yourself? How will you approach difficult situations moving forward? Be honest and open, and we’re sure admissions will be impressed.

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)

This brief assignment is Columbia’s version of the classic Why Essay, and the key to every good Why Essay is solid, specific research. Spend some quality time with the Columbia website or, if you can, on a campus tour. Ask questions, take notes, and dig to find specific people, organizations, and experiences that excite you. Don’t dig too deep into majors or classes just yet; you’ll have an opportunity to write about your academic interest in a little bit, so for now, focus on the Columbia experience as a whole. Once you have some notes on the page, try to weave together a story that pairs your interests with Columbia’s offerings. Reveal new information about yourself while also showing that you’ve done your homework.

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)

This prompt gives you a chance to geek out about your intended area(s) of study. Whether you’re hoping to study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering, the assignment is the same: offer admissions insight into your academic interests and pursuits. Whether your goals are intellectual, professional, or somewhere in between, your reasoning should be grounded in what Columbia has to offer. 150 words isn’t a lot of space, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide a detailed response. Get ambitious and aim to answer these two key questions: What intrigues or excites you about your intended major? And why is Columbia the ideal place for you to study it? Do a little research to identify classes you’d like to take, professors you’d like to work with, and alumni you’d like to network with; then, get to drafting—and leave yourself plenty of time to edit and revise! 

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School Stats:

State: New York
Acceptance Rate: 4%
Undergrad Population: 8,832
Tuition: $68,400
Ivy League: Yes
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